This was a sad week here at our house. We lost our sweet Coco to cancer. He has been a member of our family for 14 years and 5 months, and I loved every minute of it. OK. There might have been a few minutes that he was obnoxious, but we all have those times. Coco’s obnoxiousness was rare. He was mostly a sweet, easy, fun, and loving companion.
We miss him dearly.
We loved Coco from the get-go because of that floppy little ear of his. He was just adorable. And he made cute, little noises when he yawned. It was mutual love from the beginning.
I was a single mom at the time so adding a new member of the family was a big step.
Soon after Coco came into our lives, I met Shawn, and Shawn had Jack, a Brittany breed mix. Shawn and I were such a natural fit together, we bonded quickly and were married within six months.
We were a family, me, Shawn, Adee, and our two dogs. It seemed like it would stay that way forever, but life is a constant flow of change. First, Adee went away to college, and then Jack died of kidney disease when he was around 12 years old.
My little coconut was fine on Saturday, but Sunday he seemed to be having trouble peeing. We already had an appointment with the vet on Monday because he needed his annual shots. However, his appointment was anything but routine.
I told the veterinarian that Coco seemed to be having problems. By that point he’d even had several accidents in the house, which was so unlike him. They did some tests and discovered that Coco had a urinary tract infection. A serious one. They put him on two antibiotics.
I went home full of purpose, like I always do when faced with a problem. I’m a fixer! The good news was that Coco was a great pill taker. Some dogs are not so easy, but Coco was a breeze. I added just a dab of peanut butter and he gobbled them up like they were candy.
Shawn always said this about Coco and food, “he eats first and asks questions later.”
I was hoping for a quick improvement, but by Wednesday, his condition wasn’t better. I called the vet’s office and they arranged an appointment for the next day. But soon after that call, Coco began showing signs of distress. He was panting heavily and groaning when he moved.
I called the vet’s office back. The vets were gone to lunch so they recommended bringing him in at 1:30. Shawn drove and we headed to the veterinarian’s office, hoping to give Coco some relief soon. We couldn’t both go inside because of the virus and its complicating health risks, so I took him in with my mask on.
I sat in the exam room with Coco and whispered sweet nothings in his ear. “It’s going to be ok. You’re such a good boy.” He looked up at me and licked my mask. Even in pain he was such a sweetie.
The vet explained that Coco had a blockage in his urinary tract that left him unable to relieve his bladder. He couldn’t pee. That was the reason he was so distressed! His poor little bladder was so full. They took X-rays and confirmed the presence of stones in his bladder.
Were they soft or hard stones? The vet would do a test to find out. The answer would mean the difference between medication/diet that could break up the stones or surgery.
I felt hopeful on the way home. Coco had bladder stones. We could deal with that. Everything’s going to be alright, I thought to myself. I patted Coco’s head as he sat on my lap.
Coco and the Car
Coco was never a fan of car trips. In fact, Shawn and I met at a dog park for our “first date.” Can a dog park actually be a first date? I think so. I remember having that fun, jittery feeling like I was on a date, so I think it counts. Shawn brought Jack and I brought Coco, but I had to listen to Coco whine the whole 25-minute drive to the park in midtown Kansas City.
Then we started making long trips to visit Shawn’s parents in Bismarck. Poor Coco had to endure 13+ hours in the car, but at least he had Jack as a companion in the back of our SUV.
After Jack passed, Coco graduated to the front of the car. We created a seat for him with pillows on the armrest between us. He loved being between us. In fact, Coco just loved being close to us, no matter where we were, even if that meant a car.
But after he got sick, I held him in my lap as Shawn drove us to multiple visits to the veterinarian’s office. He was distressed enough, he didn’t need to also feel the angst of being in the car.
Coco and Cancer
Wednesday. We returned from the vet’s office on Wednesday afternoon. It was a long night that night. We tried to limit his water intake, because of his bladder situation. We gave him some of the new food the vet sent home with us, and as per usual, Coco gobbled it up.
Shawn was up with Coco most of the night, because he was panting. He would take him outside, patiently waiting and hoping for him to feel better.
Thursday. I got up at 5 am and took Coco and just sat outside with him. I picked him up and put him on the porch swing next to me, but he was having trouble. He was clearly uncomfortable. So, I called the vet’s office, thinking emergency care might be necessary. The vet had even said that emergency surgery to remove the stones might be necessary.
The doctor on call was the vet who had seen Coco the day before. That was a good stroke of luck. So I called his direct number and when he answered he told me that the tests from the day before had shown cancer cells in Coco’s bladder.
Bladder stones were no longer the main problem.
We took Coco back to the vet’s office to relieve his bladder and the vet used a scope and said he was able to see tumors in his bladder. He was going to confer with the vet who had seen Coco on Monday, but we should expect the worst.
Coco came home with us one last time on Thursday morning. He was exhausted. Having his bladder relieved allowed him to relax and he slept like a limp rag doll next to me. In fact, more than a few times I gently placed my hand on his side to make sure he was breathing.
Adee came and joined me and Coco on the porch swing. We spent the afternoon together with Coco. Every now and then Coco would look up at us and lick our hand, or give us that knowing and loving gaze. Sometimes, I would carry him out to the yard, just hoping he might be able to relieve himself.
Then we made the final trip to the vet’s office. They wouldn’t let us all go in, so we arranged to have him brought outside after they put a catheter in his front leg. Adee placed a blanket in the yard behind the vet’s office. She also arranged one of his beds and his favorite toy, a green teddy bear named Frog on the blanket with us.
It seemed like we waited an eternity for them to bring Coco out to us. Time slows when you’re in such a state of stress. Eventually, we saw the back door open, and both veterinarians came out, one holding Coco. They both took time to talk with us, explaining that they had done a sonogram and discovered little Coco had tumors in his bladder, urethra, and prostate.
They wanted us to know they had reviewed the tests; to give us every reassurance that what was about to happen was the right decision. The vet that was holding Coco, put him down on the ground, and he walked up to the blanket and sat between his three loving people, me, Shawn, and Adee.
Adee told me later that it seemed as if he knew what was about to happen, and that he was ready. Later, Shawn and I talked about how tired Coco had been over the last few weeks. We noticed he wasn’t bringing Frog to us to play fetch any more. And getting him up in the mornings was taking a lot more prodding. This poor fella had been hurting for awhile, but just didn’t have a way of telling us.
We turned our attention to Coco sitting on the blanket between us all.
“Take your time. Just let me know when you’re ready,” said the veterinarian, with tenderness in his voice.
We all gave Coco some loving and said sweet things to him. He was hard of hearing at the ripe old age of 14 so I got close to his ear like I had so many times of late. “Coco is such a sweet boy,” I said through tears. “Coco’s a good doggie.”
And then I signaled to the vet we were ready. Can you ever be ready for something like this? No! To be honest, I wasn’t ready. I wanted to scream, “GO AWAY!” But then I looked at that sweet being beside me — the one who had given us all so much joy over the years — I couldn’t handle the idea of seeing him suffer like this.
With tumors blocking his bladder and obviously growing every day, he would suffer a painful death, and I couldn’t bare that for my little Coco.
The vet leaned down in front of Coco, and inserted the medicine in his catheter. And just like that, my sweet little Coco was gone.
The four of us, now became three of us — me, Shawn, and Adee. So we stood in a group, hugged each other, and cried. We all felt the pain of this loss in our own ways, but expressed our grief together in tears.
Rest in Peace, Coconut the Westie: 11/4/05 — 5/21/20
I was shivering and shaking as we drove home. My heart was beating fast. I felt like I was constantly suppressing a sob. As we opened the door the house, my breath quickened. I felt like I might hyperventilate. Not seeing Coco come to the door as we opened it was heartbreaking. Knowing he would never come to the door again, was more than I could bare.
Will I ever get over that empty feeling when coming home? I’m not sure.
How do you mourn the loss of a beloved pet? It’s not easy, but these are the things I have done in mourning Coco. I’m not saying they’re the right things for everyone, but they have helped me.
On Thursday night, we had wine. Shawn suggested it, and I knew immediately it was a great idea. I needed something to dull the intense pain I was feeling. It’s in moments like these that I understand why people are drawn to it.
I’ve had a glass of wine most evenings since Coco passed. I’m not a big drinker so I doubt this will continue, but it’s a part of helping me cope in the short term.
On Friday, we collected the multiple dog beds, toys, and doggy trinkets from around the house and put them in an upstairs closet. I needed to map a new reality in my day, one that did not involve seeing my sweet Coco. So, removing his beds was part of that for me.
Friday I didn’t expect much of myself. I went for a long walk, and I cried. I called friends and talked with them. Jen of Savory Simple was a great help. She talked with me about losing her cat the year before and how she got through it. Sharing my stories and hearing others share theirs was (and is still) so important. I process things by talking, so even if I was repeating the same stories, I needed to do that.
I still can’t go into my home office. He would bark at me when I went in there without him. Because it’s on the second floor and he was afraid of heights and the long flight of stairs, I would have to go downstairs, pick him up, and carry him. He didn’t actually like being picked up, so I had taught him a hand signal that indicated that I was going to pick him, so it wouldn’t alarm him.
So, somehow, being up there in my office without him was (and still is) too hard. I will give myself time on that one. I’m lucky that all I really need to work is my laptop and I can take that anywhere.
Therapy by Action
By Saturday, I kicked into what I call, “therapy by action.” That’s just me. I like to stay busy. I went to a neighborhood plant sale (for a very good cause), wore my mask, and selected a few plants. Then I came home and planted them. Normally, Mr. Coco would be right there at the front door watching me. He was my, “someone to watch over me” guy. So, on Saturday, when I was planting, I would catch myself looking at the front door, and not seeing him there. A deep, heavy sigh followed.
Then I navigated to the garage. It was a mess, so I started organizing it. Before long, Shawn joined me and we spent most of the rest of the day organizing together.
Later in the afternoon, I went inside and started dinner. I made my vegan pizza crust. I only have 3 packets of yeast left, but I figured this would be a good day for it. Besides, yeast packets don’t stay active forever.
While the oven was hot, I figured I’d make a wacky cake too. I’ve made it so many times, I can make it from memory these days. Shawn enjoys a bite of sweet after dinner, and we hadn’t had any desserts in the house this week.
It’s hard being in and around this house without Coco. If I didn’t like our house so much, I’d be ready to move. Instead, we’re working on creating a new normal…without Coco.
How Do Others React?
Most people have been so kind, expressing their concern and shared grief. I know some people don’t understand the deep bond that happens between furry friends and their humans.
My friend, Kathy Patalsky of Healthy Happy Life had this to say, “People who love pets are the STRONGEST people ever.” I think this is so true. In fact, her post on the loss of her cat Nellie was very helpful for me.
Why Dogs are So Special
I fully expect to get another dog someday, but I feel like I need to heal before that’s possible. Otherwise, any new dog will simply be compared to Coco, and that’s not fair. Comparison is the thief of joy, even in dogs.
My mother-in-law found this saying about dogs on Pinterest. She sent it to me and it’s so perfect:
“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them, and every new dog that comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.” — Anonymous.
I hope to be as generous and loving as Coco was.
How do you deal with the loss of your furry family members? I would love to hear from you!